Choosing where to build a Data Center is a major decision. The location of the facility affects everything from how well-protected your company's computing resources and critical data are to how much it costs to run the Data Center, potentially raising or lowering operating expenses by hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
The site you choose for a Data Center also dictates how green the facility can be. That's important because green Data Centers are more energy efficient, have lower utility bills, and get more effective use from their power and cooling resources (and therefore can support more hardware) than equivalent conventional Data Centers — not to mention have less impact upon the environment.
Here, then, are 10 questions to ask about any property you're considering for your next Data Center. The corresponding answers can help you choose a suitable site and put you on your way to have a productive, green server environment.
1. Is the area prone to any natural disasters? A Data Center's primary mission is to safeguard your critical data, so it's wise to identify whether earthquakes, fires, flooding, hurricanes, ice storms, landslides or tornadoes have threatened a site in the past. Avoid high-risk areas whenever possible, but if other factors cause your Data Center to be built in a hazardous location, knowing what disasters are likely can allow you to design mitigation technologies into the facility.
2. Are there man-made hazards nearby? Not all threats to Data Centers are naturally-occurring. Determine what man-made sources of electromagnetic interference, pollution, or vibrations might exist near a site, as they can interfere with the proper functioning of your Data Center hardware. Investigate regional airports and try to avoid locations within their flight path. Also be aware of political instability — turmoil in an area can delay delivery of Data Center equipment and supplies, make utility services unreliable, and threaten employee safety.
3. What is the cost of electricity? Electrical costs are the largest operational expense for a Data Center, so local utility rates can have a big impact upon your company's bottom line. (Microsoft, Yahoo and other companies began constructing major Data Centers in the rural town of Quincy, Washington a few years ago thanks to the availability of power at about 2 cents per kWh — a fraction of the national average of about 9 cents per kWh or Silicon Valley rates of about 14 cents per kWh.)
4. What's the mix of that electricity? Electricity comes from many sources, each of which generate different quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Turning coal into electricity produces more carbon dioxide than natural gas, for instance. Choosing a site whose commercial power company provides a greener mix of power — incorporating more wind power and solar power, for instance — reduces the carbon footprint of the Data Center.
5. How's the weather? The more days per year that a site has cool temperatures, the more frequently that energy-saving technologies such as air economizers and heat wheels can cool the Data Center, thereby reducing your utility bills, maintenance costs and carbon footprint.
6. What other costs does the site involve? If your company does business online and the hardware in your Data Center handles those transactions, the location of the Data Center can have potential tax implications. Be sure to explore those implications before choosing a site. Also research what financial incentives that might be available from area utility companies and governments for energy-efficient Data Center designs.
7. Are dual power sources and dual service providers available? If you want your Data Center to be highly available, then you want its power to come from two different electrical substations and its connectivity to involve two different service providers.
8. Does the site contain any pre-existing infrastructure that can be re-used? Just because you want a new Data Center doesn't mean you have to build it entirely from the ground up. Choosing a site with an existing building — or even better an old computing environment you can upgrade — will allow you to complete construction faster and less expensively. It's also a greener choice, as fewer materials are consumed thanks to re-using the building.
9. What are local building codes like? Confirm that the building designs and technologies you want to implement for your project are allowed by local building codes for any sites you're interested in. For instance, if you hope to reduce water consumption by collecting and using rainwater for landscaping, it's useful to know if the practice is prohibited (as is the case in some regions).
10. How far must workers commute? The closer the Data Center to its workforce, the less carbon that is generated when they commute to and from the facility every day.
It's unlikely for a site to have all of the conditions you want, so decide which are the most important factors for the success of your Data Center and weigh them accordingly as you evaluate each site.
Douglas Alger is an IT Architect at Cisco and a member of Cisco's Network and Data Center Services – Architecture (NDCS-Arch) team. His latest book is Grow a Greener Data Center: A Guide to Building and Operating Energy-Efficient, Ecologically Sensitive Server Environments.